21st Century Transportation

Efficient public transportation like intercity rail and clean bus systems make our transportation system better for everyone by reducing traffic congestion and pollution, and increasing our options for getting around.

Reforming our broken transportation system

Changing Transportation: TexPIRG's series of reports on the dramatic changes underway in how Americans want to get around.

In the 20th century, Americans fell in love with the car. Driving a car became a rite of passage. Owning a car became a symbol of American freedom and mobility. And so we invested in a network of interstate highways that facilitated travel and connected the nation.

Now we're in a new century, with new challenges and new transportation needs. We still love our cars, but we also know they harm the environment around us. Americans want choices for getting to work, school, shopping and more. As lifestyles change, Americans — especially the Millennial generation — are changing their driving and transportation preferences.

We need a transportation system that reflects this century.

Consider:

Public transportation ridership nationwide is hitting record highs. This trend is greatest among younger Americans — who will be the biggest users of the infrastructure we build today. Since the 1950s — despite knowing that buses and rail use far less energy and space — we have spent nine times more on highway projects than on public transportation.

In 2015, more than half of Americans — and nearly two-thirds of Millennials, the country’s largest generation — want to live “in a place where they do not need to use a car very often.” Similar trends exist for older adults. Older adults in general put the creation of pedestrian-friendly streets and local investment in public transportation in their top five priorities for their communities.

By reducing traffic and pollution, and increasing our options for getting around, efficient public transportation systems like intercity rail and clean bus systems would make America’s transportation future better for everyone.

But America also needs to repair and maintain its current aging infrastructure. Nearly 59,000 of the nation’s bridges are classified as “structurally deficient.” Instead of building newer and wider highways that will only make America more dependent on dirty fossil fuels, we need to be smart in how we invest in roads, and fix them first.

The good news is that the public is in many ways ahead of Congress in leading the way toward reform. Help us make sure our decision makers recognize the need to invest in a 21st century transportation system.

Check out our video showcasing our work to bring about better transportation options for America's future.

Issue updates

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 4

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Texas Interstate 35 Expansion Makes National List of Highway Boondoggles, Will Cost $8 Billion

AUSTIN-- A new report by TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies nine of the most wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $30 billion. Making the list of national highway boondoggles is the proposed “Interstate 35 Expansion” in Austin, Texas being pushed by local officials. In total, the plan would cost $8.1 billion to add four new lanes to I-35 through Austin.

 

“I drive every week on I35, I know it's bad, but we need to solve our transportation problems with solutions that work, not waste money on the type of highway projects that should be in our rearview mirror,” said Bay Scoggin, director of TexPIRG Education Fund. 

The report finds that previous road expansions in Texas have failed at reducing congestion and this expansion is no different. “Look to the Katy Freeway project in Houston,” said Scoggin. “Widening the highway to 26 lanes failed to improve congestion and actually worsened travel times.”

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Electric Buses

More than 60 percent of the transit buses run on diesel, while just 0.2 percent of buses are all-electric. Numerous studies have shown that inhaling diesel exhaust can cause respiratory diseases and worsen existing conditions such as asthma. Diesel exhaust from buses poses a particular public health risk; buses primarily travel where there are lots of people, including in the more densely-crowded areas of cities, on the busiest roads, and near schools.

 

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Electric Buses Drive Healthier Communities

AUSTIN -- If CapMetro transitioned its entire fleet of 512 transit buses to all-electric vehicles, it could significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions each year and reduce toxic air pollution that creates a public health hazard. A new report from TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, “Electric Buses: Clean Transportation for Healthier Neighborhoods and Cleaner Air,” shows that a full transition to electric buses in Austin could avoid an average of 22,644 tons of climate-altering pollution each year -- the equivalent of taking 4,371 cars off the road. 

“There’s no reason we should be running dirty, polluting buses in our communities when we have better, cleaner options,” said Scoggin, state director of TexPIRG Education Fund. “Our research shows that whether commuters are on the bus or boarding the bus, they’re exposed to toxic air in high concentrations, while simultaneously, diesel contributes to global warming.”

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Plugging In

The adoption of large numbers of electric vehicles (EVs) offers many benefits for cities, including cleaner air and the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles are far cleaner than gasoline-powered cars, with lower greenhouse gas emissions and lower emissions of the pollutants that contribute to smog and particulate matter. The number of EVs on America’s streets is at an all-time high. Throughout 2016, sales of plug-in electric vehicles increased nearly 38 percent. In 2017, sales of electric vehicles were up again, increasing 32 percent over the year.

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Report Shows Texas cities Driving Less, Using Transit and Alternatives More

A first-of-its-kind report by TexPIRG Education Fund shows reduced driving miles and rates of car commuting in Texas’s urbanized areas—including Austin, San Antonio and Houston—and greater use of public transit and biking.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Transportation Bill is a Step Backwards

Statement by Phineas Baxandall, TexPIRG’s Senior Transportation Analyst, regarding the disappointing federal Transportation Bill as released from conference committee today.

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Report: Long-Term Drop in How Much People Drive, Youth Desire More Transportation Options

A new report released today by the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) Education Fund and Frontier Group demonstrates that Americans have been driving less since the middle of last decade.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

HOUSE TRANSPORTATION BILL A STEP BACKWARDS, LACKS SERIOUS FUNDING MECHANISM

America needs serious transportation reform. While the recent Senate transportation bill failed to move the ball forward on needed transportation reform, today’s House bill takes big strides in the wrong direction. And by funding future spending with revenue from increased oil drilling that won’t materialize for several years, it is clear that the House bill is just a political stunt.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Senate Transportation Bill Misses Opportunity for Historic Change

The Senate bill falls far short of the kind of decisive progress that America’s transportation system needs. America’s beleaguered transportation system is ailing and needs new direction for the 21st century, especially to become less dependent on oil. While this bill has some good provisions, it does not step up to the task. It contains some half measures and a few meaningful fixes, as well as real missteps that we hope will be addressed.

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Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

The Right Track

America’s highways and airports are increasingly congested. Our nation’s transportation system remains dependent on oil. And our existing transportation infrastructure is inadequate to the demands of the 21st century.

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Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

What We Learned from the Stimulus

The latest data on stimulus spending show that funds spent on public transportation were a more effective job creator than stimulus funds spent on highways. In the 10 months since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was signed, investing in public transportation produced twice as many jobs per dollar as investing in roads

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Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

Greasing the Wheels

In the wake of the Minnesota I-35 bridge collapse there was enormous public outcry and recognition of the need to repair our crumbling infrastructure. Americans expected public officials to respond to the tragedy with a large scale effort to address the nearly 73,000 structurally deficient bridges in this country. The findings in this report suggest that did not happen.

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Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

Private Roads, Public Costs

Road privatization is a growing issue in the United States as politicians and transportation officials grapple with budget shortfalls. Toll road privatization takes two forms: the lease of existing toll roads to private operators and the construction of new roads by private entities. In both instances, private investors are granted the right to raise and collect toll revenue, a right that can amount to billions of dollars in profits for the shareholders.

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Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

Economic Stimulus or Simply More Misguided Spending?

President-elect Obama has declared that the next recovery plan must do more than just pump money into the economy. It will also create the infrastructure that America needs for the 21st century. This fall, Congress asked states to submit lists of “ready-to-go” transportation infrastructure projects that could be funded by the stimulus package.

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Blog Post

The soot and smog spewed by cars and trucks affects all of us. And we all have a part to play in the solution.

Media Hit

Like many American cities, Houston is encircled by rings of highways—nine major radial freeways, three ring freeways, and a 180-mile fourth outer ring on the way.

But Houston isn’t just encircled by roads, it’s symbolically, and literally, being choked by cars. It’s consistently ranked as a top city for traffic congestion, ninth-worst for ozone pollution according to the American Lung Association, and a tragic nexus for deaths from car crashes. The annual death toll, according to the Houston Chronicle, is equivalent to “three fully-loaded 737s crashing each year at Houston’s airports, killing all aboard.”

According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the solution is more roads, specifically, a multiyear, multibillion dollar project to widen and expand the city’s highway infrastructure in an attempt to ease persistent bottlenecks that clog downtown traffic.

 

This isn’t a small upgrade: in the name of accelerating commutes, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) will widen and rebuild nearly 25 miles of highways in the city’s downtown, expanding some to be as wide as the length of two football fields. In addition to years of construction, the “Texas-sized” expansion would displace four houses of worship, two schools, 168 homes, 1,067 multifamily units, and 331 businesses that account for just under 25,000 employees, impacting mostly people of color in low-income neighborhoods.

It would add more impermeable concrete and asphalt infrastructure, plus future maintenance costs, to a city that is still recovering from some of the worst floods in recent memory. Resilience is a serious concern post-Harvey, and as flood maps are updated as flood risks evolve, the addition of concrete to the landscape could make the next storm’s impact worse. Houstonians still recall how highways became channels of water that cut off neighborhoods from aid during the worst of the flooding.

To critics, the I-45 project, named after the main highway that will be impacted, is an urban renewal reboot, a modern version of the freeway expansion projects that wrecked neighborhoods and divided cities in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Why would more urban highways and lanes of traffic—especially at a time when many cities are actively removing or capping their highways—be a foregone conclusion in any effort to mitigate Houston’s serious congestion problem?

Blog Post

Dear Chair Patman,

We write you today to urge METRO to transition its buses to a clean, all-electric fleet.

We applaud the work METRO employees do every day, safely carrying thousands of people, including many who cannot or do not wish to drive, to work, school and more. METRO buses and light rail are playing a critical role in reducing traffic and air pollution. Furthermore, we appreciate the efforts METRO has taken to convert buses to hybrid technology, limit idling, and initiate an electric bus pilot program. 

However, most METRO buses are still powered by diesel—a dirty fossil fuel that gives off toxic emissions—endangering the health of the people who ride them and contributing to global warming. 

The good news is we have the technology to start building cleaner, healthier cities and neighborhoods. Dramatic declines in battery costs and improvements in performance, including expanded driving range, have made electric buses a viable alternative to diesel-powered and other fossil fuel buses. 

Replacing all of METRO’s diesel-powered transit buses with electric buses could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 43 million pounds each year. 

Electric buses can also be more affordable than fossil fuel buses in the long run, since they have 30 percent fewer parts, no exhaust systems, their braking systems last longer, and they don’t require oil changes or fossil fuels. Over the lifetime of the bus, an electric transit bus can avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating costs over an equivalent diesel or natural gas bus, from lower fuel and maintenance costs. 

We urge you to no longer purchase any more diesel buses. Putting new diesel buses on the road today will pollute our city for at least twelve more years. Instead, as buses are ready to be retired, please replace them with clean electric ones.

The Houston region is receiving $32 million from the Volkswagen Settlement funds, but that money is yet to be dispersed. This is a great opportunity for METRO to start transitioning to clean electric buses. 

 

We look forward to working with you to one day give all Houstonians the opportunity for a “whisper-quiet, green ride.”

Media Hit

A massive remake of Interstate 45 from downtown Houston north to the Sam Houston Tollway that would be among the largest road projects in the region’s history also is one of the nation’s biggest highway boondoggles, according to an updated list released Tuesday.

The North Houston Highway Improvement Project — the umbrella term for the entire $7 billion-plus plan to remake Interstate 45 — is listed in the latest installment of unnecessary projects compiled by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Frontier Group. Nine projects across the country made the 2019 list, the fifth annual report from the two groups that have argued for greater transit investment.

“We believe that to fix congestion problems we need to take cars off the road,” said Bay Scoggin, director of the TexPIRG Education Fund, a subset of the national group. “We could do far better investing $7 billion in public transit.”

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

Despite boasting one of the most extensive highway systems of any city in the country, Houston is planning to spend $7 billion on the “North Houston Highway Improvement Project.” According to a new report from TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, the project would expand I-45 through the middle of Houston, displacing homes and dividing communities.

“The fundamental law of road congestion is that if you build it, they will come,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund director. “More highways means more cars, so policymakers are living in a ‘Field of Dreams’ if they think this project will reduce congestion.”

“To improve Houston’s transportation system, we have to reduce our reliance on cars and highways,” Scoggin continued.  “This project does the opposite, doubling down on a car-centric system that will lead to more traffic, pollution and sprawl.”

Transportation | U.S. PIRG

Get on the electric bus

A look at six early adopters of electric buses

 

Transportation | U.S. PIRG

Volkswagen settlement scorecard

Volkswagen was caught cheating emissions laws and settled with federal authorities. The settlement included nearly $3 billion for the Environmental Mitigation Trust. How well does our state rank on plans for investing VW mitigation trust funds in clean transportation projects?

 
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